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How Can Job Descriptions Influence the Design of Your Organization?

The job description does not focus on describing the informal work, social, political, and other relations and behaviors with which workers typically are involved. Its emphasis is on planned, formalized, and anticipated work roles and behaviors. The informal structures and processes that emerge spontaneously in any organizational setting may be elaborately described with appropriate socio-metric techniques, but the job description is not the place for this material.

Crafting the right job description can save your organization time, energy, and resources.

Not a picture of rewards.

Job descriptions do not describe the reward structures and privileges that employees experience. Salary levels and grades, benefits, time off for good attendance, and so on, should be highlighted in separate documents designed to disclose what the organization offers employees for their performance of the tasks in the job description. These documents are sometimes called reward schedules.

Not time and motion study results.

A job description is not a time and motion study write-up. Time and motion studies are done to identify better means of performing duties and to set precise cycle time standards for executing repetitive tasks. Time and motion study data are generally too detailed to be incorporated in the job description. The job description specifies responsibilities and tasks, not individual motions, and indicates approximately what percentage of one's annual work time is spent on given tasks and responsibilities rather than precise cycle times.

Not a statement of why, or of rationale.

The job description's emphasis is not on explanation of why tasks are performed. It may state overall job rationale and the objectives of certain tasks, but elaborate developments of why is not the purpose of the job description. Separate documents should be written for such purposes.

Not a job factor sheet.

These are used in job evaluation to rate jobs on their relative value to the organization so that an equitable pay-base can be established. Job descriptions can aid in the preparation of a job factor sheet and are used to help score jobs after the factor sheet is established. However, job descriptions must be carefully distinguished from factor sheets.

Not a commentary on job design quality.

Finally, a job description is not a judgmental document or a commentary on the quality of a job’s design; it states only what that design is. The decision to be made on whether the design is good or bad must be left to the analyst with an interest in improving the design of the work based on a set of criteria.

Why Job Descriptions Are So Important

Job descriptions are highly valuable to the management of organizations for a number of key general reasons as follows:

They describe basic building blocks. Job descriptions are such vital documents because they are models of the basic building blocks of an organization’s  set of jobs. All jobs in an organization are interdependent; each job is part of a total system. Significant flaws in the design of just one job can cause a crumbling of the entire organization, just as one failing component in a rocket can cause the entire rocket to be unsuccessful in flight. Any system is only as good as its weakest link.

To assure no weak links in the organization, each job must be carefully designed and integrated with the others. Preparation and analysis of job descriptions help assure jobs are well designed and that the parts of the organization pull together for the benefit of the total system. When employees are left alone without job definitions, self-interests will dominate their organizational behavior. Running the organization without quality job descriptions becomes analogous to building a sky scraper on a pile of loose rocks.

The job description is the central tool for guiding an integrated work design effort. They describe a basic determinant of performance and satisfaction. Further, they are highly important because they show how work is designed. Work design is a primary determinant of employee-job performance and of employee satisfaction. Job design affects performance both directly and indirectly. If, for example, work is not laid out for efficient performance, the design has a direct negative impact on performance. If the nature of the work is excessively ambiguous, for example, it has an indirect negative impact on performance by affecting adversely the worker's motivation to work. If the nature of the work is too mundane, it negatively impacts job satisfaction.

Since job designs are such a powerful force affecting employee performance and satisfaction, they must be carefully engineered and constantly monitored. This is where the job description comes in. As a work blueprint, it facilitates efficient job design and analysis of that design to efficiently identify and correct possible sources of job performance and satisfaction deficiency.

Job descriptions also give direction. They are so useful because they point to the way in which an employee should direct their efforts and time. It gives validity to employee efforts, assures the worthwhileness of their efforts, and gives the employee direction. The alternative is aimless wandering, chaos, inefficiency, randomness, unpredictability of behavior, instability of the organization, lack of continuity of activity from one time frame to the next, breakdown, and mistake.

They are a business prophylactic. As more than one astute manager has suggested, a properly prepared job description is a business prophylactic. It serves as a safety net, helps to prevent scores of nasty problems from emerging. It also helps prevent employee dissatisfaction, keeps regulatory agencies in check, and helps fight lawsuits related to employment malpractices.

The job description confirms that work has been planned, and when an organization's work is planned there is a much higher probability of organizational success than when things are left to a largely unplanned operation and the kind of crisis management that inevitably follows. Without job descriptions there is an absence of definition for the organization’s function and the essential duties of its employees. Employee motivation, training, staffing, and performance control would not be possible in the face of this loss. Indeed, management would not really be possible at all without a clear organizational structure.

They also serve to justify human resource investment. The job description is so highly essential to the success of an organization because it represents justification for the organization's investment in what is typically the most expensive of all organizational resources--the human resource. Job descriptions show how they plan to spend their energy on recruiting, training, and retaining valuable labor. They help prove the need for the human resource and help give top management a degree of control over its costly human resource investment.

Ultimately, they are useful in all phases of human resource administration. The job description is management's most powerful tool because it has so many specific uses, as an aid in every phase of human resource administration or as the base document for an entire management system.

See the following articles for more information: